"This is bullshit."
"That is not a sitrep," Locus growled.
"Well, sorry to disappoint, but that's the biggest fact I've got for you: this is bullshit. This is one of the worst assignments ever, in fact. It's fucking torture. Come on, you can tell me: this is Control punishing me, isn't it?"
Locus ground his teeth together, forcing himself to remain focused on the sniper rifle's zoom screen on his HUD. He reminded himself that he was a soldier; a professional, and Felix was a mission asset. Professionals maintained mission assets at all costs until that mission was complete, and they did not give in to personal motivations to cause grievous harm to those assets — no matter how aggravating they might be.
He had been hiding in the hills above the outpost since yesterday evening, monitoring the raid and the Elite's arrival. Below him, the scene was anticlimactic. After the initial meeting, the alien leader and Tucker had gotten into a heated conversation; their respective officers had ushered them into one of the buildings and out of sight of the rank and file — and Locus. It was an unforeseen reaction; previous reports suggested the two were close. Curious.
"Do you know how hard it is for me not to kill him right now? Seriously, one little M41 round and a whole lot of problems are just gooey paste on the walls. I could just — "
"Do not jeopardize this mission," Locus snarled.
"Oh, relax. I'm not gonna do anything, as ridiculously tempting as it is. But seriously, though, it would be stupid easy. Just a quick trigger pull, or even just a single frag, and..."
Locus bit down on a sigh as Felix made an explosion noise. "Remember your purpose," he grated. He hesitated before continuing, "You're certain this channel is clear?"
"C'mon. Give me some credit. You really think I'd be talking this much if I wasn't?"
Locus didn't reply.
"Okay, you know what? That hurts, man. That really hurts. You really think I'd fuck up like that twice? 'Fool me once,' after all.
"Yes, this channel is clear. Their little digitized pet took the bait. As far as it's concerned, it's got access to all our channels, but it's only monitoring high frequency and above. As long as we stick to ULF it shouldn't notice us. If it does, well… I think our little surprise will take care of it."
"Your equipment is operational, then?"
"'Operational'? Dude, you wouldn't believe the shit I can do now. I'm like a fucking god. Why the hell didn't we pass these out earlier? I can't wait to kick this baby up to full throttle!"
Once again Locus wondered at Control's wisdom in selecting Felix for this mission. "Focus," he said, "You would do well to remember what happened the last time you got distracted."
"Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you over all the hypocrisy."
Locus' brow lowered. "Say again?" he said.
"I watched the playback feed. I know exactly how long you spent trying to monologue at that Freelancer — three minutes and two seconds, by the way."
Chagrin bit hard as Locus conceded Felix's point. He had been weak, giving in to the urge again and again to try and understand Agent Washington. To figure out how — no, why. Why such an effective soldier had turned his back on his true nature and allowed himself to grow soft. And Locus' last indulgence had distracted him long enough for Felix to fall right into the sim trooper's trap.
He shook the past away and recentered himself in the present. He would follow his own advice; there was still a mission to complete.
"Are you able to continue monitoring the alien's conversation?" he asked.
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"Yes, I'm patched in — discreetly, before you ask."
"Are they discussing anything of value to report?" Locus asked.
"How should I know? One's talking in a stream of idiotic, nonsense syllables and the other's speaking an alien language."
Locus gave a menacing growl.
"Fine. From what I can tell, we are audience to what has to be the most disappointing and potentially explosive reunion this side of the New Mombassa Bossanova Bosses bringing back MacDougal for the finals."
Locus waited in silence.
"Okay, once again, it disgusts me just how lame you are. That was hilarious, and it went right over your head. Take five minutes off being a goddamn killjoy and watch some television, for the love of God."
"Alright! Jeez. No, I'm not getting anything worth reporting from my position. You are getting just as much intel out of this useless conversation as I am. Can we shoot people now?"
"Negative. Our mission is reconnaissance only."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"I bet if Agent Washington were here we wouldn't be 'standing by'."
Locus scowled as Felix's mutter transmitted loud and clear, but did not gratify him with a response. As much as Locus strove for strict professionalism, he had to admit a certain sense of regret that the former Freelancer was no longer present, given that this mission was specifically to gather intelligence.
His attention snapped back to reality as he saw movement in the group below. The aliens retreated to cluster around their ship while the Chorus soldiers began to meander towards the closest building and out of Locus' view.
"Report. What's happening?" he asked.
"I repeat, what is happening?"
"Didn't I just answer this, like, five minutes ago?"
A muscle jerked in Locus' cheek as he clenched his jaw. "I lost visual of the Chorus soldiers. You are in an optimal position to report on the current circumstances, and I will not remain idle while the mission is in progress. Now, what. Is. Happening?" he growled through his teeth.
"God, fine, whatever. From what I can tell, it's lunch time, so everyone's breaking for chow. And in a direct contradiction to the normally responsible and productive management of their time, literally everyone is now just standing around talking. Really, I'm, I'm shocked. It's so unusual for them, so I'm sure when you ask for another report here in thirty seconds, I'll have something different to tell you. Because they would totally never just waste an entire fucking day talking."
What Locus wouldn't give for just one straight answer. He took a deep breath to solidify his hold on his patience before continuing. "What is the nature of the discussion?" he said.
"You know, you are a huge pain in the ass sometimes."
That surprised a derisive snort from Locus. He scowled, suddenly knowing exactly what Felix was doing.
"No it does not," he snapped, "Enough playing. Continue the mission."
"Yeah, yeah, getting resituated now. And, just so you know, nobody likes a sore loser. That's totally a point for making you break face, and a bonus point for doing it during a mission."
Locus once again changed the subject; it was the only defense. "I'm advancing to fulfill the secondary objective," he said.
"Careful. Those split-jaws are no strangers to camo, and I'm not risking my position to come save you."
"Your concern is noted," Locus said wryly. The world shimmered for a split second as Locus activated his camouflage.
His descent was a thing of minutes, and his infiltration of the camp took less time than that. He inwardly scoffed at just lax security; had this been an actual raided outpost the retaliatory offense would have barely broken a sweat retaking the base. The Chorus natives were still wary out of habit, but were focused more on each other than any outside threat — including the Elites.
As for the aliens themselves, they proved more of a challenge. The Honor Guard Ultras kept a loose perimeter around their craft, all facing outward and showing none of the negligence present in the humans.
Locus slowed to a near crawl; quick movement made it harder for the camouflage to cover him. At this pace only thermal imaging would betray him, and none of the guards were equipped for such detection.
Despite his surety, Locus fought the urge to hold his breath as he inched through the Elite line. Reaching the rank of Honor Guard meant that each of these warriors had killed hundreds, if not thousands of humans. Bristling with armor and weapons as they were, if he were discovered the ensuing battle would not be a long one.
He grimaced as the familiar leathery stench invaded his nose and ignited an old hate to simmer in his belly. Humanity had barely survived the war; it was only by luck both the Flood invasion and the Great Schism happened at the most opportune time to divert the Covenant's attention. He could still remember the way their roars seemed to drive straight into his stomach, more felt than heard, and could still recite the recipe for the concoction of basic camp cleaning solvents necessary to get their purple blood off his armor. Deeply ingrained training urged him to attack, to kill before they discovered him.
But he was a professional, and he had a mission.
He exhaled silently as he cleared the guards and headed into the Spirit. The transport was a no-nonsense craft that had a singular purpose and stuck to it. Designed solely for carrying a large payload of troops, the only seat in the entire craft was the pilot's. The bays were empty and had only a narrow walkway while the doors were open.
Locus slipped up the ramp, his boots making no noise on the strange metal. As he neared the cockpit he heard the rumble of an Elite talking, and he paused to listen. Whatever it was saying, it was clearly annoyed, and whatever annoyed a pilot could be useful.
... Hhnnk honk blargh honk, blarrgh bllaarrgh honkk hhnk!
"JUST LET ME TALK TO DOG!"
Locus twitched in shock. A human woman? On an Elite ship? But why? He crept closer, putting his back to the wall and peering cautiously into the cockpit. Much to his further surprise, the human — clad in yellow MJOLNIR armor reminiscent of the sim troopers — was in the pilot's seat, arguing with the Elite standing over her.
"Like, what's your problem, anyway?! We're freaking parked, so, like, why can't I go outside?!" she was saying.
The Elite let out a long breath, swiping a four-fingered hand down its face in a universal sign of frustration. Blarghh blargggh honkk blargh honk, blargh blargh honk blarrgh bllargh hhonk! it growled.
"I just wanna go outside and see my brother, geez! Like, why are you freaking out?" the woman said.
Locus lifted an eyebrow. Brother? He straightened and scoured his memory for the files they had on the simulation troopers and could only recall one of them having a sister.
Honk honk hhonnk blargh honk, honnk honkk blarggh blaargh!
"Yeah? Well, like, I already told you these guys are cool! I mean, like, most of them. Kinda. One's old and that's gross and one's, like, a really huge nerd that says stuff like 'old school'. But, like, Dex wouldn't hang out with bad guys!"
Bllarrghh honnnk hnnk blrgh honk blargh!
"This is so lame! He's, like, right there! I could go out and, like, say hi or whatever, and if something really does go down then, like, we can just jump right back in the ship and take off! C'mon, I haven't seen him in, like, forever!"
A satisfied smile briefly curled Locus' lips. So the Elites were wary and had brought along a potential hostage in case the situation went south. This could be a definite advantage, should the other humans be made aware of it. He peered around the corner again to make sure the two were still distracted by their argument, triple-checked that his external comms were shut off, and risked a transmission.
"There is a human woman board," Locus said in a low voice. It was unnecessary, he knew: he could have shouted and no sound would escape his sealed armor, but this close to the enemy he didn't want to take any chances.
"There is a human woman on board," Locus repeated. He looked into the cockpit again. "This could be useful. Unknown subject appears to be related to Dexter Grif. The aliens are holding her on board against her will; it is unlikely any outside know she's here."
"So you're thinking hostage?"
There was a small pause, then Felix began to chuckle. "Finally, the batshit crazy luck these idiots have is working in our favor. How do you want to play this?"
"We — "
An angry alien voice burst out of the speaker in the cockpit. Both occupants fell silent, listening intently.
"Uh, Locus, you gotta move."
Locus scowled, remembering he had yet to complete his goal. He'd gotten distracted and had been neglecting his purpose. Again. "Negative. Secondary objective has not been accomplished," he said. He took a deep breath and crouched, then eased his way into the increasingly cramped cockpit. Both the present Elite and the human were focused on the message. Though most of it was incomprehensible to him, one word stuck out: "Armonia."
"Fuck the secondary objective! That's why it's secondary! The meeting just broke — they're onto us. You've got maybe twenty seconds until Baby's First Hinge-head and his entire entourage are back on that ship!"
"Negative," Locus said again. Moving as quickly and as quietly as he could, he slipped a surveillance bug out of one of his ammo pouches and planted it on the underside of a panel, where it would be difficult for the casual observer to locate. It latched on with a barely audible click; he would have to wait until he was back at base to receive confirmation it was operational. He rose and —
The woman's cheer sent his hand to his pistol, nearly drawing and firing on instinct. He held his breath and slowly turned, sure he had been discovered.
His hand dropped, forgotten, to his side.
The Elite was hunched over the console, replying to whomever had been transmitting. The woman was operating the controls, her hands moving with a confidence that suggested familiarity. "We get to go hang out at the city!" she was saying as the engines warmed to life, "I can see Dex there, right? 'Cuz if you guys tell me I gotta stay on the ship the whole time that's gonna be, like, super lame! Hey! We could find a rave! I would do these totally bitchin' ones back at Blood Gulch, and everyone came. One time, I made, like, ten bucks in one night!"
"Locus! What the fuck are you doing?! Get out of there!"
"The girl is the pilot," Locus said, his voice numb with shock.
"The girl is not a hostage — she's the pilot!"
The implications of this were staggering — and not just for Charon's plans here on Chorus. Tucker and his renown within the Elite culture had always been just an anomaly; a fluke. But for a second, completely unknown human to be allowed to not only pilot an Elite ship, but pilot the ship of the highest religious figure the Elites had?
They needed more intel, and the bug he just planted had suddenly become the most valuable piece of equipment on the planet.
"Look, that's cool, whatever. We'll talk about it later. Right now, you've got to — motherfucker!"
The sound of many heavy boots charging up the ramp gave reason for Felix's curse. Locus froze as Elite voices began filling the ship, then flattened himself against the far wall of the cockpit, hand curling around his pistol's grip. There was very little chance he would make it out of here alive, but he would not go down easily.
An Ascetic in green armor stuck its head into the cockpit and barked something at the two within. Locus ground his teeth — he was close enough to breathe in the scent of clean feathers; unusual, for an Elite. His heart hammered in his chest and he forced his breathing to stay slow and even. If the Ascetic were to so much as twitch in his direction, those tusks would hit his helmet and expose him. Yet he dare not move, as even the slightest noise from his armor would have the same result.
"Yeah, yeah, we'll be up in a second!" the woman said. She turned and glared at the Ascetic. "And tell Dog that if I don't get to see Dex when we land next time, I'm gonna — "
Yes, Kai, I am aware: you will "kick my ass." Worry not, you shall see your brother soon.
The high-pitched, almost squeaky voice broke into the cockpit accompanied by its robe-clad owner, the Elite Messiah himself: Jineewua ("Junior") Dar 'Tucker. He stopped in the center of the small room, his head tilting slightly as if listening to something. Mollified, the woman (Kai?) turned back to her console.
There was a moment where the only sound was "Kai" manning the controls. Then the youngling waved a dismissive hand over his shoulder, and the Ascetic retreated with a small nod and the other adult Elite close behind. Locus let out his breath; though by no means roomy the cockpit was much less crowded with only him and the youngling standing.
The floor lurched as the Spirit lifted off. Locus rode it easily, and much to his credit so did Jineewua.
"So, like, what was all that about? Did you get to see your dad?" Kai asked.
Yes, I did, Jineewua said, stepping up to stand next to her seat.
"So why are we leaving? Like, shouldn't we be having a party or something?"
It was suggested that we reconvene at an alternate location —
"Dog, what the fuck are you saying?"
Jineewua's lower mandibles spread in a grin. Dad said we should go to his place because apparently shit's fucked up and needs figuring out, he said.
He tilted his head ever so slightly, and Locus told himself it was his imagination that Jineewua was looking at him out of the corner of his eye. A lot needs figuring out, he said.
"Yeah, whatever, cool," Kai said. "As long as I get to hang out with Dex."
"Locus! Come in. Spirit just took off; you'll be out of range soon. You still alive?"
Locus sent a green affirmative light to Felix's HUD.
"Jesus. The fuck were you thinking? Whatever; are we still a go?"
He sent another green light.
"... You sure?"
Another green light.
"Alright, you crazy bastard. I'll tell them to be gentle.
"... Good luck."
Author's Note: I am so very sorry for my extended absence; a whole fuckton of stuff happened in my life right at once and it took me a while to manage it all. Lost my job, started planning a wedding, getting ready to go to college... it's been a busy couple of months.
I can't promise I'll be able to post with any regularity, but I'll do the best I can. Just know that I won't abandon this; it might just take me a while to finish it.
As always, my sincerest gratitude to my beta, Aryashi.
Red vs Blue is property of Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC. Halo is property of Microsoft, Bungie, and 343 Industries.